On inconsistent entities. A reply to Colyvan

In a recent article M. Colyvan has argued that Quinean forms of scientific realism are faced with an unexpected upshot. Realism concerning a given class of entities, along with this route to realism, can be vindicated by running an indispensability argument to the effect that the entities postulated by our best scientific theories exist. Colyvan observes that among our best scientific theories some are inconsistent, and so concludes that, by resorting to the very same argument, we may incur a commitment to inconsistent entities. Colyvan's argument could be interpreted, and in part is presented, as a reductio of Quinean scientific realism; yet, Colyvan in the end manifests some willingness to bite the bullet, and provides some reasons why we shouldn't feel too uncomfortable with those entities. In this paper we wish to indicate a way out to the scientific realist, by arguing that no indispensability argument of the kind suggested by Colyvan is actually available. To begin with, in order to run such an indispensability argument we should be justified in believing that an inconsistent theory is true; yet, in so far as the logic we accept is a consistent one it is arguable that our epistemic predicament could not be possibly one in which we are justified in so believing. Moreover, also if our logic admitted true contradictions, as Dialetheism does, it is arguable that Colyvan's indispensability argument could not rest on a true premise. As we will try to show, dialetheists do not admit true contradictions for cheap: they do so just as a way out of paradox, namely whenever we are second-level ignorant as to the metaphysical possibility of evidence breaking the parity among two or more inconsistent claims; Colyvan's examples, however, are not of this nature. So, even under the generous assumption that Dialetheism is true, we will conclude that Colyvan's argument doesn't achieve its surprising conclusion.

Published in:
Philosophical Studies, 150, 2, 301-311

 Record created 2011-04-09, last modified 2018-01-28

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